None of these were problems in 2008 or 2012, but they sure are now. The electoral college has to go. The First Amendment needs to be changed to prohibit hate speech. The Supreme Court needs term limits or, in the alternative, to be packed with the right sort of justices. And now we need two new states.
The biggest racial preferences in this country have nothing to do with college admissions or job offers. They have to do with political power. And they benefit white Americans, at the expense of black, Asian and Hispanic Americans.
There are many arguments, problems, that could follow this paragraph. Gerrymandering to deny predominantly black areas the ability to elect a representative of their choosing. Voter suppression to reduce the number of minority voters. Felon disenfranchisement, which coordinates with the disproportionate focus on minorities to deny them the right to vote. But that’s not what follows.
First, the states whose populations have grown the most over time, like California, Texas, Florida and New York, are racially diverse. By contrast, the smallest states, like Wyoming, Vermont, the Dakotas and Maine, tend to be overwhelmingly white. The Senate, as a result, gives far more special treatment to whites than it once did.
The second reason is even more frustrating, but it would also be easier to fix. Right now, about four million American citizens have almost no congressional voting power, not even the diluted power of Californians or Texans. Of these four million people — these citizens denied representative democracy — more than 90 percent are black or Hispanic.
David Leonhardt’s solution? Make Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico states.
They are, of course, the residents of Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Almost half of Washington’s residents are black, and nearly all of Puerto Rico’s are Hispanic.
The proposition is neither new nor much of a stretch. It’s rather surprising that there are substantial parts of the United States denied representation, as well as the less pleasant duties that come with it. But the reason here raises a very different issue than before, as Leonhardt does some math.
The Senate gives the average black American only 75 percent as much representation as the average white American. The average Asian-American has 72 percent as much representation as a white person. And the average Hispanic American? Only 55 percent as much. That’s right — the structure of the United States Senate treats a Hispanic citizen as only about half as important as a white citizen.
The rationale for this calculus is that we have small “white” states, each with two senators, and huge diverse states, also with two senators. And, he argues, that the reason we’ve been slow to let D.C. and P.R. enjoy the representation they deserve is that it would dilute white power.
If you think about the four youngest states — Arizona, New Mexico, Alaska and Hawaii — you may notice a pattern. Like Puerto Rico and Washington, they are home to a lot of nonwhite people, which is not a coincidence. This country has historically been slow to grant full enfranchisement to people with darker skin.
As Leonhardt points out, there’s no guarantee that D.C. and/or P.R. if made states, would vote for one party or the other. They may not support the Democrats, so any complaint that this is just a ploy to shift power to the party out of power isn’t fair. And indeed, that’s certainly true, even if it might be reasonable to argue, at least for the moment, that there is reason to assume they would favor the Democrats rather than the Republicans.
There are numerous sound reasons to contend that both Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico should have representation in Congress. And there are reasons to suggest that a few of the other states have grown too large, too populous, too divided, to similarly be denied the opportunity to have voices that best reflect their views.
But is race, alone, a reason to create two new states? Rather than aiming at a nation where discrimination is eradicated, this is directed to establishing race as a permanent feature of politics. How could that possibly go wrong?